Boko Haram survivor: ‘God was in heaven—he seemed to be far away’
Rebecca Peter is a 15-year-old Catholic teenager, currently attending High School in St.Theresa camp for Internally Displaced People, near the city of Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria. In this account, she describes an attack by Boko Haram on her small village, Wuro Ngayadi, where she grew up as the fourth of six children; she also tells of a Boko Haram attack on the town of Michika. The Islamist terrorist organization has a relatively low profile these days, but the group’s merciless attacks, particularly on Christian populations, has left deep scars. Rebecca has memories she will never forget:
“I had heard about Boko Haram when it started in Maiduguri, but wasn’t really worried because I didn’t think they would be interested in attacking my small village. But they did.”
“On a Friday in August 2014, I saw a friend approaching our house accompanied by a man in a military uniform. She said Boko Haram had raided her house and while she was fleeing, this man caught her and made her take him to other people’s homes. I didn’t have time to be alarmed because my heart immediately began racing. I knew we were done for.
“The insurgent was standing inside the compound, right where my stepmother sold locally brewed gin. That day she had a full house. The man fired his weapon into the air and people began running helter-skelter. Other insurgents came and began shooting at us. As I fled, I could hear them screaming: “Stop or we will kill you.” This made me run even faster, as I dodged a rain of bullets. In movies I had seen people running away from things like this in zigzag. That’s what I did too. I think This is what saved me. In the chaos, I lost my friend. I don’t know what happened to her.
“I didn’t know where I was running to. Getting to safety was all I was thinking of. I ran for a whole day into a bush far from my community and stayed there for two weeks. I didn’t know where my mother or the rest of my family was at this time. There were other people from my village and neighboring communities, who were also hiding there. Their faces were as strange and distant as was their behavior towards me. None of them bothered to show me any care, even though I was only a child.
“They were all after their own welfare and that of their children. There was no bond whatsoever among us, even though we were in the same situation and had only God in heaven to look up to. God was too far away.
“This was the first time that the reality of my situation dawned on me. Mangoes were the only food available. After the ripe ones ran out I started to eat the unripe ones. I knew they would make me sick, and indeed they gave me severe stomach upset, but I felt it was better to eat them than eat nothing at all. My greatest fear then was dying from the pain.
“I said all the prayers they thought me at catechism until I was tired but, still, I spent two whole weeks in the bush. What did I do wrong in the eyes of God?
“On the 15th day, we all came out of the bush and began to make our way to the town of Michika. It took us a few hours to get there. The people there helped us with water, food and shelter. But only a few days after we had arrived there, Boko Haram attacked the town. I began another journey on the run. After about 10 days I got to Yola. It is only recently that I found out that Michika is about 170 miles from Yola; I wonder how I was able to cover that distance on foot. It’s hard to believe I did it. The fear of death made it possible.
“The one thing I wish I hadn’t seen from my hiding place in the bush was Boko Haram decapitating people and horribly mutilating their bodies. I also wish it had not been necessary to climb over dead bodies as I fled. These memories are not good for me. The saddest part of it all for was to see youths from my community—mostly Christians— willingly joining the insurgents. Poverty and joblessness made them do so.
“On September 7, 2014, after about a month of walking and being on the run, I arrived in Yola and ended up at St. Theresa camp; other IDPs became my new family and friends. It was not until 2016 that I got word that my mother and the rest of my family were in Abuja. At long last we were reunited.
“Growing up in my village, we had a social life that was fun. We were free. Nigeria seemed a normal country to me then. There was hardly any crime apart from people reporting that their chicken had been stolen and things like that.
“Today, there is nothing sweet about Nigeria. Nothing! I say so because of my current situation. I am displaced. I once had a room with a comfortable bed in a proper house. We lived in our own house. We didn’t pay rent. My mother was a farmer. My parents provided for us. My father was a policeman. Now, I sleep in a hall full of people with mattresses on the ground. When I hear news about my village it is about bomb blasts and raids in our area.
“Even though I am living in an IDP in camp now, I still enjoy school and my favourite subject is basic science. I also love to read and dance. Plus, I have always dreamed of becoming a medical doctor and still hold on to this dream, in spite of all that is happening. I am optimistic that I will realize my dream.
“Living in the camp isn’t comfortable. I don’t like the fact that we depend on charity. If people don’t bring us things, we can’t survive. But I am grateful that have never been molested or treated shabbily because I am a woman. I’m very happy we don’t have such experiences here. The priests and the bishop are doing a great job of protecting us.
“I won’t lie, for those two weeks when I had to hide in the bush, I lost faith in God. It seemed as if He didn’t care. But reuniting with my mother helped me regain my faith in him. The fact that he brought us all back together makes me believe he cares. But it really was difficult those two weeks to believe in him.”
—Adie Vanessa Offiong